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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: The reigning kings (and queen) of soul

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The only problem I have with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings' "I Learned the Hard Way," released Tuesday on Daptone Records, is the way I listen to it. I understand it's the era in which we live, but this isn't music for the MP3 or even the compact disc.

The sound of Jones' voice and the eight-piece Dap-Kings is too big, too full, too textured for that. This is sound for a 12-inch piece of vinyl.

Thankfully, that is an option the band is offering.

This is all semantics, though, isn't it?

The bottom line is, the record, in any form, is great soul music. Jones' voice, whether conveying heartache, anger or happiness, demands to be noticed. She grabs the ears of listeners and demands to be heard.

And the Dap-Kings might be the best soul ensemble working today. Of particular note is the horn section of Neal Sugarman, Ian Hendrickson-Smith and Dave Guy, who bring us sounds all too often missing in modern music.

It's not all about the huge sounds, though. The closer "Mama Don't Like My Man" is an absolute delight, featuring only Jones along with the guitar of songwriter-guitarist-bassist-producer Bosco Mann and three background singers. Soul is a lot of things, from the bombast of James Brown, to the tenderness of Sam Cooke, and this band encapsulates all of it.

The title track, which has been receiving radio play for a few weeks, is another obvious standout, with horns that move from defiant to triumphant as Jones tells an old lover, "I learned the hard way about you." The opener, "The Game Gets Old" taps a similar vein, although at a slower tempo.

The album moves to some more socially conscious lyrics with "Money" and "She Ain't a Child No More." The former remains 1960s in its sound, but is all to timely in its subject matter, conveying the desperation of so many Americans with the question "Money, where have you gone to?"

While a number of "soul revivalist" bands are working today, something seems more genuine about this outfit. Perhaps it helps that Jones, 53, is old enough to actually remember the golden age of soul music.

Maybe life experiences also helps. While she has been working with the Dap-Kings for about a decade and four albums, she spent time prior to her music career as a corrections officer and an armored car guard. You can hear those details in her voice -- it's not the singing of someone used to the posh life.

My spin: A-

I'll admit I'm a sucker for the past. Anyone who can recreate the past, even a past I can't remember, earns extra points. But "I Learned the Hard Way" doesn't feel like a recreation. It's just outstanding music.

For those who must download, "I Learned the Hard Way," "The Game Gets Old," "Money," "Better Things" and "Mama Don't Like My Man" are all good places to start. Really, though, the whole album is good.

If, like me, you still have a record collection, do yourself a favor and get this one on vinyl. Drop the needle on it and enjoy.

When you're through, slip it in the collection among the Otis Redding, James Brown and Aretha Franklin. It will be right at home.

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, "I Learned the Hard Way"

Released: April 6 on Daptone Records

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are: Sharon Jones-vocals; Neal Sugarman-tenor sax; Ian Hendrickson-Smith-baritone sax; Binky Griptite-guitar; Thomas Brenneck-guitar; Fernando Velez-congas; Homer Steinweiss-drums; Dave Guy-trumpet; Bosco Man-bass, guitar.

Producer: Bosco Mann

Learn more at: www.sharonjonesandthedapkings.com or www.daptonerecords.com

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